March Madness

[You may notice from the title of this post that is was written, for the most part, last month.  I’ve had a lot of trouble finding the mental space to blog this spring, as explained below, and have been only barely involved in my usual online activities of tweeting and chatting.  I’m returning to school tomorrow after a restful week off, and am thus posting this delayed entry.] This is not about basketball, not in the slightest way.  But it definitely describes my life right now, one of the reasons why I have been averaging one blog post per month. I have a tendency to metaphorically overload my plate, which is why teaching is such a perfect career for me – it feeds right into one of my best and worst qualities.  This month, in addition to teaching 165 students, 100 of whom are in a course I am putting together for academically high need students, I have a full private tutoring load, and am participating in Common Core curriculum reviews for the NYC Department of Education twice each week.  I applied for this last opportunity in mid-January, and didn’t hear back until February 26, 5 days before the reviews were set to begin.  Initially pleased, I took a look at my calendar, and took a mental gulp.  Something doing EVERY day for the entire month of March. I’m three weeks into the month, tired, but in a good place.  I’ve had some great moments in my classrooms (which I will get to in just a moment), I’ve almost hit the 2/3 mark in my online Calculus III class (which occasionally makes me understand exactly how my students feel when they say “I don’t get it – any of it”), and, just this week, found out I was accepted to the Park City Math Institute Teacher Leadership Program for this summer, with a funding package generous enough to allow me to attend.  So even though I’ve got 2 weeks of this madness yet to go, and even though the term ‘spring’ is a joke with 4 inches of snow on the ground here in Brooklyn, I’m feeling [just a little] engerized. But my classroom: IMG_4807Algebra 2/Trig has been a series of lows and highs.  The first big exam on Radians and Trig Functions was a disaster, truly, sending me into a deep and unhappy reflective mode – unhappy because I was so surprised by the results.  I thought I had given the students a lot of time to question, discuss, clarify and practice, along with review materials which addressed all the content on the exam.  We spent a day of going over the exam, examining common errors, and then I re-quizzed them on key ideas, with much better results.  The upside of the experience for me was insight into those spots in which my familiarity with the material was still blinding me to what my students needed, things that I hadn’t realized I needed to say explicitly (and repeatedly) in the classroom, as well as a tap on the shoulder to remind me that I should be ‘backwards planning’ more effectively.   The upside for the students was that they received (a) a second chance to demonstrate that they had actually learned the content, finally, with appropriate studying and (b) a bit of a wake-up call, which they needed. We moved on to another favorite topic of mine – graphs of trig functions – and with the traumatic experience of the first exam still echoing in the classroom – much better preparedness each day by the students, and more focused formative assessment on my part.  I am very pleased with how I planned the unit (this is my second year teaching the course) – not only did I have the final assessment in mind when I began, but I was able to incorporate a wide range of technology and strategies to keep the classroom a vital environment of discovery.  We began by plotting curves by hand, then examined them in Desmos, used iPads and Nearpod to practice writing equations of graphs, and even watched some videos which some wonderful teachers have generously shared with the Internet.  I haven’t finished grading the final assessment, but the results already look enormously improved. The final two topics in the unit  – graphs of reciprocal and inverse functions – always give me a bit of trouble.   I decided to do a “Notice and Wonder” a la Mad Max of the Math Forum with the graphs of the cosecant and secant, with wonderful results – the observations of some of the students thrilled my teacher’s heart, such as these:FullSizeRender Danielle: The graph of the cosecant is everywhere the sine isn’t. Kizelle: The graphs can’t be between -1 and 1 because the hypotenuse of a right triangle is always longer than the legs. Sawaniya: Every time the sine [or cosine] is zero, the reciprocal graph has an asymptote. It was a great day in this teacher’s life, and I am finishing this blog post 3 weeks later so I don’t forget it.

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